Book of the Week: This is the Water – Yannick Murphy

When I finish a book I am often in love with it–floating on the exhilaration of the experience the author has created for me. But there aren’t a lot of them I love with still-vivid recall a couple years later. Yannick Murphy’s 2011 novel The Call (9780062023148; $14.99 trade paper) is an exception. Time will tell if it ends up being one of my favorite reads ever. So far, though, this dark, sweet-hearted little novel is certainly in my top ten for this decade.

I mention this because my devotion to Murphy is now such that I would read her PTA meeting notes if I bumped across them. (I’m sure they’d be hilarious—and a tad sinister.) Instead, I had the pleasure of reading This is the Water. It’s infused with the kind of wry, quirky observation that marked the previous book but Murphy is clearly not interested in covering the same ground twice. This is a dark story involving a town haunted by a serial girl who is stalking its teenage girls. What’s fascinating about this book is the way it plays with point of view. As with The Call, this new novel plays with narrative perspective. Even more interesting to me is her choice to put the town at the center of the story rather than the killer.

Murphy is a bracingly original writer and it’s well worth picking up any project she takes up. Early reviews agree. Both Booklist and PW weighed in with starred reviews—and as you might expect it’s an Indie Next pick for August.

“Rules, rules, so many stupid rules: ‘Don’t switch point of view.’ ‘Don’t give away the identity of the killer.’ ‘Don’t write in the second person.’ Yannick Murphy, an author who seems drawn to high cliffs, ignores all the warnings in . . . an inventive thriller set in suburbia — and in the troubled minds of her characters. The second-person narrative voice that feels alienating at the outset . . .  soon becomes hypnotic . . .  and then seriously unsettling. . . . Murphy proves skillful at generating a proper climate of dread, forcing us to focus our fears on the killer’s next victim. But her real accomplishment is her study of the anxieties reflected in the exacting rules of the club…..”
— The New York Time Book Review

With her obscenely suspenseful latest, Murphy (The Call, named one of PW’s best books of 2011), who is known for her stylistic experimentation, tries out a second-person perspective and a continual this is’ structure that takes some getting used to, but that works thanks to the fact that the author breaks up the book into 48 short chapters. ‘You’ are Annie, a New England mom driving your two daughters to and from swim meets, married to an emotionally aloof husband whose encyclopedic mind and frequent recitations of factual tidbits drive you crazy. But you, the novel’s protagonist, don’t know everything that you, the reader, know—for instance, only the reader knows the identity of a serial killer scoping out potential next victims on the swim team. Therefore the book’s real tension centers on which of the characters will uncover the killer first, making this inverted murder mystery a ‘whogotit’ rather than a whodunit… [I]n Murphy’s hands, the structure becomes almost hypnotic—and when the story hits full speed in the final quarter, the suspense becomes almost excruciating.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Murphy’s latest propulsive, psychologically lush, witty, and unpredictable novel, a tale of young competitive swimmers and their parents. . . . Murphy’s evocation of feverish competition, stressed marriages, and the shocking banality of a serial killer’s inner life coalesce in a novel of acute observation, penetrating imagination, and rare agility that is capped by a resounding denouement.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Murphy seasons the rising tension with humor. . . . A different sort of murder yarn that boasts twists in both the style and the plot.”
Kirkus Reviews

This Is the Water (9780062294906) by Yannick Murphy. $14.99 trade paper original. 7/29/14 on sale.

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